The World Stars of Photography

This week I was in Mannheim again, so I took the time and visited Hasselblad Foundation’s World Stars of Photography.  On display are 6-10 original prints by each of all the 28 winners of The Hasselblad Award.  Nicely framed and accompanied by two large information panels for each artist, the images fill up quite a large and long hall, so if you do visit, plan an hour at the very least (I spent two hours).

Like I wrote in my previous post, I did not know many of the photographers or their work, but the significance of winning the Hasselblad award soared my expectations.  For example, all of you have seen Ansel Adams reproductions probably think that they look great.  But people who’ve seen original prints speak of them as if they are from a different world.  Well, there are seven original prints on display in Mannheim…  But let me leave those for a separate post.

The exhibit starts with Lennart Nillson and several images from his “A Child is Born” series.  While fascinating, I found the images too literal and emotionless, too technical and lacking any artistic stand or position.

Next up was Ansel Adams, and then came Cartier-Bresson.  Bresson’s images were framed in such a way that you just begin to see the film sprockets.  In other words, every print shows the entire negative.  Technically Bresson’s images are very competent, yet not perfect.  But what really sets them apart is their vitality, geometry, balance, and energy.

Next up was Irving Penn, who I found very interesting and definitely worth investigating further.

Then came several images with very different themes, but from the same artist — Ernst Haas.  There were a couple of black-and-white documentaries, a few prints with unnatural colors, then a couple of wonderfully colorful images dominated by motion blur.  I found La Suerte De Capa breathtaking (the original print, not the poor reproduction below) and Free Spirits was also very good.  Apparently Haas went through several different styles, and he was a master in many of them.

La Suerte De Capa, © Ernst Haas

Edouart Boubat‘s images were also very good — concentrating on showing us a peaceful and beautiful world.  I particularly liked Cherry Tree in Blossom and Mother and Child on the Beach- In general, I’d like to see more images by Boubat.

Sebastiao Salgado’s was also represented — with several socially documentary images.  His images from Sierra Pelada make you think you are steping centuries back in time and some of those from the Sahel look like being taken on a different planet.

What followed was William Klein’s street photography. Richard Avedon’s Dovima with Elephants is great (120×160 cm!), but his other images I find merely OK.  Joseph Koudelka’s gypsy images are very interesting.  Sune Jansson’s are good, and Susan Meiselas’ documentaires are great.  I’m afraid, I don’t understand Robert Häusser’s images, and Robert Frank’s and Christer Strömholm’s not my cup of tea.  Eggleston’s, I’m sorry to say, I find pointless, Boris Mikhailov’s also (but in a very different ways).

Then we get to Jeff Wall, and… hm, well, WTF ?!?

The value of the work of Malick Sadibé for me is more in the image selection as in any single image.  Lee Friedlander’s images do nothing for me and Bernd and Hilla Becker’s are simply boring.

Nan Goldin portrays in a very direct and effective way a world that I know nothing about.  Or care to know about…

The work of a few artists was so uninteresting to me that I simply cannot formulate a sentence about.

Now, where does that leave me?  I seem to like the work of the earlier photographers a lot, and that of the more modern ones I either don’t get or don’t like.  I know that I am not alone in this judgement, but that does not make me feel any better.  I still wish I could enjoy a wider selection of art…

But go and look for yourself — what do you think?